President Joe Biden goes before the United Nations (UN) this week amid Western allies becoming increasingly skeptical about how much United States foreign policy has really changed since Donald Trump left the White House.
Biden is eager to make the case for the world to act with haste against Covid-19, climate change and human rights abuses, but plans to limit his time at the UN General Assembly due to coronavirus concerns. He is scheduled to meet with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and address the assembly on Tuesday before shifting the rest of the week’s diplomacy to virtual and Washington settings.
At a virtual Covid-19 summit he is hosting Wednesday, leaders will be urged to step up vaccine-sharing commitments, address oxygen shortages around the globe,and deal with other critical pandemic-related issues.
The US president also has invited the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan, part of a Pacific alliance, to Washington.
Through it all, Biden will be the subject of a quiet assessment by allies: Has he lived up to his campaign promise to be a better partner than Trump?
Biden’s chief envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, offered a harmonious answer in advance of all the diplomacy: “We believe our priorities are not just American priorities, they are global priorities,” she said Friday.
But over the past several months, Biden has found himself at odds with allies on a number of high-profile issues.
There have been noted differences over the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the pace of Covid-19 vaccine-sharing and international travel restrictions, and the best way to respond to military and economic moves by China. A fierce French backlash erupted in recent days after the U.S. and Britain announced they would help equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
Biden opened his presidency by declaring that “America is back” and pledging a more collaborative international approach.
At the same time, he has focused on recalibrating national security priorities after 20 years marked by preoccupation with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and thwarting Islamic terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. He has tried to make the case that the U.S. and its democratic allies need to put greater focus on countering economic and security threats posed by China and Russia.
Biden has faced resistance – and, at moments, outright anger – from allies when the White House has moved on important global decisions with what some deemed insufficient consultation.
France was livid about the submarine deal, which was designed to bolster Australian efforts to keep tabs on China’s military in the Pacific but undercuts a nearly $100 billion deal for a fleet of a dozen submarines built by a French contractor.